* Axa bought 51 pct of Colombia's No. 4 insurer
* Colombia insurance penetration low, potential high -CEO
* Axa pursuing strategy of expansion in high-growth markets
By Peter Murphy
BOGOTA, Nov 15 France's Axa said its
arrival in Colombia after buying 51 percent of the country's No.
4 insurer, Colpatria, this week comes in time to capture years
more rapid growth as economic expansion boosts demand for
Axa revealed on Monday that it had bought the majority stake
in the insurance division of Grupo Mercantil Colpatria for 251
million euros ($338.2 million). Colpatria has 7 percent of a
roughly 8 billion euro insurance market in Colombia.
"It's the right time to enter this market," said Laurent
Granier, Axa CEO for the Mediterranean region and Latin America.
Though demand is still relatively low for insurance products
in the Andean nation, the market's potential is strong, Granier
said, with average annual growth of 12 percent in the last five
years, while Colpatria grew at an even faster 18 percent.
"What we expect in the coming years is to maintain high
growth by expanding the range of products and ... using our
know-how and strengthening our presence on the Internet,"
Granier told Reuters at Colpatria's Bogota headquarters, Torre
Colpatria, the nation's tallest building.
Axa's entry to Colombia was one of its two major
acquisitions this year. The other was its purchase of 50 percent
of Chinese insurer Tian Ping for the equivalent of 485 million
euros, a bet on the prospects for auto insurance in
Granier said Axa was seeking growth in part by expanding
into some of the world's fastest-growing markets.
The company is also taking its first steps into the
Brazilian market through corporate insurance and has applied for
licenses to offer a wider range of insurance products there,
($1 = 0.7421 euros)
(Reporting by Peter Murphy; editing by Andrew Hay)